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Story highlights

Judges Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman were the favorites for Trump's Supreme Court nomination

(CNN) —  

In the end, Judge Thomas Hardiman only drove a few hours east of Pittsburgh.

“The reality is that to the best of my knowledge he never left the state of Pennsylvania,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday night after the announcement. “He never was in DC, nor did he ever leave the commonwealth.”

The Trump administration was taking extraordinary measures to build suspense and keep the final selection for its Supreme Court nominee under wraps for as close to the announcement as possible. Hardiman and Neil Gorsuch, both federal appellate judges, were the established favorites.

Gorsuch got the nod at the White House Tuesday night, and it turns out Hardiman never made it to Washington.

White House sources acknowledged Tuesday night they left the impression with reporters that he was coming to Washington. Hardiman appeared to play along. One source said Hardiman was given the sense that there could be a spot for him should another vacancy open up.

Sources inside the White House and close to Hardiman said earlier Tuesday that Hardiman was asked to come to Washington. Other news outlets reported before the announcement that Hardiman was going to be at the White House event, though CNN was never told that was the intent.

After he was seen leaving his Pittsburgh home, a CNN producer last saw Hardiman again at a highway gas station more than 100 miles east of Pittsburgh in the direction of Washington.

But earlier in the day, sources told CNN that both finalists were being brought to Washington ahead of Tuesday’s White House announcement.

One source said that Gorsuch was told it was likely him. Those close to the process warned that until it was announced, Trump could change his mind.

“He likes a contest,” one person close to the process said of Trump.

Two packets of briefing materials were being prepared to give senators Tuesday night: Gorsuch and Hardiman. But one person said the “Gorsuch packet” was full and complete, while Hardiman’s was little more than biographical.

One person close to the process said Trump doesn’t view runner-up as a bad thing. “There will be other openings on the court, so the person not picked will be runner-up,” this person said.

Key Trump selections have been dramatic before. When he was selecting his vice presidential choice it was reported that even after Mike Pence was selected but before it was announced, Trump asked his team if he could change his mind. Additionally, after CNN reported that Trump was set to announce General James Mattis to be his secretary of defense at a rally, his team openly denied the choice in the hours before Trump went ahead and announced it on stage.

This story has been updated throughout to reflect new reporting on Hardiman’s activities and the White House’s plans.